End college admissions favoritism

Posted: April 12, 2023

Current policies give some applicants unfair advantages

With many of the seniors from the class of 2023 beginning to receive admission letters from universities, questions begin to arise over why one student may be accepted over another in the college admission process.

As the number of applications submitted to universities has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, criticism of the methods used to examine one’s academic capabilities has emerged.

Legacy Admission Policies

Recently, attention towards legacy admission policies has grown after an increase in complaints over the bias this policy holds. Legacy gives preferential treatment to applicants who have family members that attended the same university that an applicant is applying to. Regardless of academic qualifications, applicants whose sibling, parent, grandparent, or even extended family member attended that particular university may be favored during the admission process.

Universities and colleges are hesitant to reform or remove the current legacy admission policies due to the many benefits they may provide.

One example is the number of donations universities receive from legacy admitted alumni. A study reports that 42 percent of legacy graduates were found to be top donors of the school while only 6 percent of non-legacy graduates were top donors. Along with financial yield, enrollment yield is more likely to be higher at a legacy university.

The same study reports that on average, 74 percent of accepted legacy students attended the university. This higher enrollment of legacy students allows the universities to plan financial packaging and enrollment in an easier manner.

While legacy admission policies have been used and supported in higher education for many years, the topic has recently attracted controversy as there has been an increase in calls for greater fairness in university admissions.

Many contend that these regulations are unfair because they favor applicants who are already privileged. This often will put other applicants who are equally qualified at a disadvantage since they do not have the same family connections.

Legacy also can even affect demographics of a university’s student body. The New York Times reports that in 38 elite colleges and universities in the United States, legacy applicants were two to three times more likely to be accepted compared to the general applicants. This in return has created many student bodies that are disproportionately white and privileged.

It is time for colleges to stray away from using legacy preferences due to its engine of inequity. An approach to resolve this issue could be to stop asking applicants to provide higher education information about family members.

The Common Application, an application that more than 800 schools use, requests students to report college information about their parents such as where they earned their degrees. A simple resolution would be to remove this section of the application. Some universities have already taken steps to address the issue.

In 2020, Princeton University announced that it would eliminate its legacy admissions policy, becoming the first Ivy League school to do so.

Recently, Johns Hopkins University has also ended their legacy admission policy in an attempt to allow more opportunities for applicants with fewer socioeconomic privileges.

Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels speaks on his legacy decision with the Atlantic saying that he was disturbed with “This form of hereditary privilege in American higher education particularly given this country’s deeply ingrained commitment to the ideals of merit and equal opportunity.”

An admissions reputation of privilege and inequality is created by legacy admission policies. Universities should focus on admitting students based on their academic qualifications and potential, rather than their family connection.

Standardized Testing

In addition to legacy policies, the use of reviewing standardized tests like the SAT and ACT in the college admission process has also grown in controversy. This topic has been debated for decades as many believe that application reviewers use test scores as an essential and persuasive part of the applicant review process.

While these tests can display one’s academic ability, using them in the review process can bring biases and unfairness in determining who gets into college.

Although reviewing standardized testing should be a part of the admission process, it should not heavily influence admissions decisions compared to other application elements.

Standardized tests are frequently criticized for not accurately and completely reflecting a student’s true academic potential. These exams frequently place more emphasis on a student’s ability to memorize and regurgitate information than they do on their critical thinking or creative abilities.

This may result in situations where students who are strong in these subjects have trouble remembering equations and rules and are punished as a result. Standardized tests are also often biased against low-income families.

Studies have shown that since it is harder for these families to obtain test tutoring and struggle to have access to elite high schools, they tend to perform worse on the SAT and ACT compared to wealthier families. Because these more privileged students have access to better resources, they have an advantage to score higher on these exams improving their chances of getting into certain universities regardless of their true academic potential.

In recent years, universities have attempted to combat this criticism by implementing new policies in which students can choose to not send in their standardized test scores. Although this was implemented as a solution to students not being able to take standardized tests during the 2020 Covid pandemic, a majority of schools have decided to keep this option available for students.

However, many have felt that there is both an upside and downside to this new implementation.

“It definitely has made the admission process a lot fairer for students who may not be the best test takers and felt like their test scores did not fully reflect their academic capabilities,” said a Minnehaha senior. “But it also makes reviewing applications much more random and nuanced when there’s no common factor on each student’s application.”

While there may be some justification for using standardized tests in the college admissions process, it is obvious that they should not be the only consideration. Universities should work to create assessments of a student’s academic potential that are more fair and precise. If not, schools run the risk of preventing deserving students from realizing their full academic potential.

In-State vs Out-of-State

In-state versus out-of-state admission favoritism has long been a concern in college admissions. This preference can lead to unequal access to universities for students living in different states than where the school is located.

Supporters of the in-state application process argue that it is crucial to guarantee that students from the state where the university is located should be given preference over out-of-state applicants.

They argue that the taxpayers who help fund public universities should have a right to see their tax
dollars used to benefit their own state’s students. Although there is some merit to this statement, the priority and bias should not be as extreme as it is right now.

For example, UNC-Chapel Hill had a 2021 in-state acceptance rate of 41%. However, out-of-state applicants had a much lower chance of getting into the same school with an acceptance rate of 13%.

A Minnehaha senior has felt the effects of this issue first hand after applying to the University of Virginia.

“I felt like I had a shot of getting accepted since my statistics and credentials matched the suggested components that previous admitted students had,” said the senior. “However, I definitely felt like applying from out-of-state hurt my chances of getting in since they are so preferential to in-state applicants.”

In 2022, the reported acceptance rate of in-state applicants was 36 percent. Although still a competitive acceptance rate, the reported out-of-state acceptance rate remained at 18 percent- half of the percentage of in-state applicants.

“There definitely has to be change in the future of the admission process,” said the senior. “Not being from Virginia really hurt my odds of getting in.”

A student’s family history in education, standardized test scoring, and place of residence should not be such a determining factor in their ability to access certain universities. There should be more equality when it comes to acceptance into public universities.

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